What a difference a week makes. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but this young Detroit Lions team found a way to win, holding off the Green Bay Packers in Week 9 of the 2022 season.
With the offense sputtering and failing to get going for the majority of the game, the much-maligned Lions’ defense was forced to step up against a Green Bay passing attack led by 2021 NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers. If you have been a Lions fan for any amount of time, I am sure you had thoughts of this being a “get-right-game” for the struggling Packers’ offense. After all, Rodgers has tormented this fanbase for well over a decade now.
None of that mattered to the Lions’ defense. Changes were made to the coaching staff, a players-only meeting was held, and things seemed to click against the Packers—particularly in the secondary. Rookie safety Kerby Joseph intercepted Rodgers twice, and even rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson got in on the action, picking off a pass intended for All-Pro offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. And with the offense struggling like it was, the Lions needed all of these big plays from their young core if they were going to come out on top.
Let’s take a look at how each member of the Lions’ 2022 draft class fared in their Week 9 victory against the Packers.
Aidan Hutchinson, DL
65 snaps (88% of total defensive snaps) — 1 special teams snap (8%)
PFF defensive grade: 65.9
Beyond his interception in the red zone, Hutchinson had another steady performance. Two tackles, two hurries, and the aforementioned takeaway.
His first career interception was the result of a few things. First—it was just a really odd play call from the Packers. There is a time and a place for screens to your offensive tackle—and this didn’t feel like one of them. At least not in the moment. Second—Hutchinson’s instincts once again paid dividends. You can see that his initial responsibility on the play was likely to set the edge. However, once he sees Rodgers look his way, he follows the quarterback’s eyes and it leads him to the football.
Here, we have something that won’t show up in any box score or on a stat sheet, but usually factors into a sack in one way or another. Hutchinson is working against Bakhtiari, and despite not winning the rep right away—helps contribute to Barnes sacking Rodgers. If Hutchinson drifts out of his rush lane, Rodgers can likely avoid Barnes, or at the very least—throw the ball away. Instead, Hutchinson and the rest of the defensive line stay disciplined, allowing Rodgers nowhere to run.
After watching the film against Green Bay, it is clear that Hutchinson is getting more comfortable stringing together moves and countermoves on the edge. Also, when the Lions opt to slide him inside over the guard during passing downs, he is typically having his way against interior offensive linemen.
For good measure, here is another clip of Hutchinson making a play against the run. I know it isn’t as sexy as getting after the passer, but he has been consistent in this area of the game, and it shouldn’t go unnoticed. Watch him at the top of the line. Easily disposes of the attempted chop block and makes the play on the ball carrier.
Jameson Williams, WR
DNP: On reserve/NFI while recovering from a knee injury suffered in January 2022
Josh Paschal, DL
PFF defensive grade: 69.1
The more I watch Paschal, the more I like him. Take this rep from early in the first half. The job of the tight end here is to get Paschal on the ground, leaving one less defender pursuing the run from the backside. And not only does Paschal avoid the block, he quickly gets back to his feet and helps cornerback Will Harris stop running back Aaron Jones for a short gain.
On this particular play, Rodgers ends up completing a deep pass to wide receiver Alan Lazard, but keep an eye on Paschal. The Lions overload the right side of the offensive line, starting with both Paschal and Hutchinson lined up outside of the right tackle’s shoulder. After the snap, Paschal immediately loops inside, engaging with left guard Elgton Jenkins. Seemingly on contact, Paschal gets under Jenkins’ pads and begins fork-lifting him into the lap of Rodgers. Impressive power from the rookie out of the University of Kentucky.
Again we get a flash of the big guy’s athleticism. Lined up between the tackle and tight end pre-snap, Paschal wastes no time or movement, with his first step taking him right where he needs to go. He shoots the gap and is able to run down Dillon for a short gain.
Overall, it was another strong outing for Paschal, finishing the day with three total tackles and two quarterback hits.
Kerby Joseph, S
47 (64%) — 3 (23%)
PFF defensive grade: 90.1
If that quarterback in Green Bay didn’t know Joseph’s name, he certainly does now. The interceptions are going to be the plays that stand out, but the rookie’s day was impressive all around. Ten total tackles, two interceptions, and one diving pass-breakup.
After forcing fumbles in back-to-back weeks, Joseph displayed the ball skills that had the Lions’ scouting department raving during his evaluation process. The first interception is a good old-fashioned tip drill. After Rodgers throws a ball off of second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes’ facemask, the ball goes straight up toward the roof of Ford Field before Joseph is able to corral it for his first pick of the day.
On this rep, the Packers hand the ball off to running back AJ Dillon—their short yardage specialist at a stout 247 pounds. Both safety DeShon Elliott and linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez do a good job of crashing down the line, negating Green Bay’s attempt at walling off that side of the play. From there, Joseph works his way towards the hash, before breaking down and tackling Dillon along with second-year linebacker Derrick Barnes.
In previous weeks, I have talked about how defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn asks a lot of his safeties, having them move around the secondary quite a bit. In this instance, Joseph is walked up near the line of scrimmage pre-snap, almost like he is going to blitz. Once the ball is snapped, he gets into his drop and begins running with wide receiver Samori Toure near the left hash. His eyes are fixed on Toure up until the moment he notices Toure is looking back for the ball Rodgers is about to uncork. Once Joseph looks back for the ball, he actually slips out of phase a bit, but because of his excellent range, he is able to still get a hand on the ball, causing an incompletion rather than a touchdown. Just excellent work against one of the best deep-ball throwers this game has ever seen.
Lastly, we have Joseph’s second interception—likely his most impressive rep of the day against Green Bay. Pre-snap, Joseph appears to be responsible for half of the field as the help over the top of the defense. With his eyes fixated on Rodgers, he can easily see the skinny post tight end Robert Tonyan is attempting to run near the hash. Almost simultaneously with Rodgers releasing the ball, Joseph makes his break, stepping in front of Tonyan for a picture-perfect takeaway. It isn’t often rookies bait quarterbacks like Rodgers into throws they shouldn’t make, but Joseph read this like Green Eggs and Ham.
James Mitchell, TE
13 (21%) — 5 (38%)
PFF offensive grade: 84.8
With last week’s departure of tight end T.J. Hockenson, we knew Mitchell was likely in store for an uptick in snaps. And while it isn’t much, 13 snaps is still the highest of Mitchell’s rookie season.
Coming out of college, Mitchell was tabbed as a plus run blocker. With that said, the competition in the NFL is a bit different than that of the ACC, and plays like this are going to happen for almost any rookie tight end. He fails to get a hand on Green Bay’s Kingsley Enagbare, who ends up disrupting the flow of the play before it can get going. Rough rep, but I am confident that part of his game will take care of itself with time.
On his first career touchdown reception, I want to give a lot of the credit to offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. This is an example of how a team can incorporate varying degrees of tempo into their game plan without it always being a no-huddle situation. The Lions’ offense breaks the huddle and hurries to the line, where they have a bunch formation towards the bottom of the screen. From there, tight end Brock Wright releases into the flat, Swift runs a short in-breaking route, drawing the eyes of the linebacker in the area, and Mitchell runs a deeper in, where he is able to find some empty grass for an easy throw-and-catch.
Malcolm Rodriguez, LB
19 (26%) — 3 (23%)
PFF defensive grade: 51.8
Rodriguez’s day was cut short after he suffered an elbow injury in the first half. Prior to that, he managed to log four tackles against the Packers.
Chase Lucas, DB
DNP: Was inactive against the Packers due to an ankle injury